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E3: Activision files lawsuit claiming it owns one of EA's biggest games, Brutal Legend

June 4, 2009 |  2:41 pm

Brutal legend
Brutal Legend is on display as an Electronic Arts offering at the E3 this week. Credit: Jonathan Alcorn / Bloomberg News

On the show floor at E3 today, Electronic Arts' Brutal Legend is one of the hottest and most heavily promoted games.

Behind the scenes, it's also the source of the day's biggest drama as Activision Blizzard, the country's biggest video-game publisher, has filed a $15-million lawsuit against developer Double Fine Productions and is attempting to prevent competitor Electronic Arts from releasing the game this fall.

Brutal Legend, which stars Jack Black as a heavy metal roadie fighting against mystical demons, was originally set to be released by Vivendi Games. Last year, that company merged with Activision, whose executives took charge of the new entity known as Activision Blizzard.

It appeared at the time that Brutal Legend was one of numerous games previously in production at Vivendi that Activision Blizzard was dropping when it wasn't on a short list of titles the new company announced it was picking up.

As a result, few were surprised at reports that developer Double Fine was negotiating with other publishers, or when Electronic Arts announced last December that it would release the game this fall.

But in its lawsuit, filed Wednesday in California Superior Court in Santa Monica, Activision claims it was caught unaware. The complaint states that the two companies had been in negotiations over the future of Brutal Legend after Double Fine claimed in February 2008 that it would need an additional $7.6 million on top of the original $15.4-million production budget to complete the game. After learning of the deal with EA, Activision sent Double Fine a cease-and-desist letter.

The complaint claims that under Vivendi's deal with Double Fine, which stayed in effect after the merger, the developer was not allowed to seek a new publisher unless the original agreement was terminated by Activision Blizzard. It also claims that neither Double Fine nor EA have paid back Activision Blizzard any of the game's original production budget.

"Double Fine intends to unilaterally transfer Activision's $15-million investment to one of Activision's chief competitors, without anyone paying Activision a nickel in return," the lawsuit states.

Reports that Activision didn't recognize EA's right to release the game first surfaced in February.

Executives at Double Fine have yet to provide their own interpretation of the events of the last year. However, it appears that the developer, which has been represented in its negotiations with EA by the Creative Artists Agency, believes Activision Blizzard gave up its rights to Brutal Legend after the merger closed last summer and it didn't affirmatively decide to publish the game.

Tim Schafer, chief executive of Double Fine and creative director of Brutal Legend, released a brief sardonic statement today: "Hey, if Activision liked it, they should have put a ring on it. Oh great, now Beyonce is going to sue me too."

-- Ben Fritz

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